I've gotta admit, I'm excited about the long-term prospects of the LPGA's Class of 2011. Building on Hound Dog's use of an excellent assessment of past trends in rookie classes' performance their 1st seasons on the LPGA to rank the rookies, his list of the best LPGA rookie seasons ever, and my own mini-profiles of many in the class from the last day of Q-School, I'm thinking the last class in the LPGA's New Blood generation will have more players making an immediate impact than the rather disappointing Class of 2010. Here's how I break down the players' odds of doing well this season, but keep in mind that even if they have low status via the 2011 priority list at the moment or even for the entire season, they will have plenty of chances to improve on it over the course of what I'm expecting to be long and prolific professional careers for many of them.
Simply the Best
Jennifer Song (Category 9, #91 on the priority status list): She's my pick for Rookie of the Year for a variety of reasons, but probably the deciding factor for me is that I expect her to have an easier transition to the LPGA from USC and the Futures Tour than the player many are expecting to be the ROY, Hee Kyung Seo of the KLPGA.
Hee Kyung Seo (Category 7, #89): She's coming off a down year on the KLPGA in 2010. In fact, she hasn't played world-class golf since winning the Kia Classic last March. So I'm seeing her as more of a Hee Young Park than a Ji-Yai Shin or Na Yeon Choi right now. Here's hoping she proves me wrong--on the upside!
Belen Mozo (Category 11, #111): With dual membership on the LPGA and LET and 2011 being a Solheim Cup year, it's difficult to predict where Song's USC teammate will focus her efforts. She definitely has the talent to be ROY on both tours but in practice will probably have to decide between them at some point in the season. If she's in the mix on the LPGA, I expect her to choose the big tour and try to follow in her good friend Azahara Munoz's footsteps, but if not the Solheim Cup and emerging rivalry with Caroline Hedwall may call her more to the LET. She opened with an even-par 72 today in New Zealand to fall 8 shots behind leader Guilia Sergas and 3 shots behind classmates Christel Boeljon and Amelia Lewis to kick off a week in which she's looking to extend her lead in the LET's ROY race.
Jessica Korda (Category 11, #97): She couldn't get medalist honors at LPGA Q-School, but she impressed a lot of people. Still, I find it hard to believe a 17-year-old can really win the LPGA's ROY. A top 50 player this season? I hope so, but I wouldn't put that much pressure on her to excel in her 1st full season as a pro.
Tiffany Joh (Category 16, #150): I expect one of my favorite golfers to get into a good number of tournaments on the LPGA this season, as plenty of players skip events for all kinds of reasons and she can always Monday qualify if necessary. But if she doesn't build on her successes in Australia quickly on the LPGA, she may choose to focus her efforts on finishing in the top 5 on the Futures Tour so she doesn't have to go back to Q-School.
Quantum Leap Candidates
Christel Boeljon (Category 11, #127): She was in the top 10 on the LET last season on the strength of 3 runner-up finishes, so definitely has the potential to make the leap to the LPGA more successfully than others who have tried to translate good European results onto the big tour. But will she? I'm doubtful.
Jenny Shin (Category 9, #93): She poured it on during the 2nd half of 2010 on the Futures Tour to snag the #4 spot on their money list. Now let's see if she can ride that momentum early in the LPGA's 2011 season and gain some serious confidence with some good results.
Kimberly Kim (Category 11, #120): This bomber's got loads of talent and a smashing junior and amateur record, but I question her maturity, mental toughness, and readiness to compete against the world's best on a regular basis. Now if that doesn't give her more motivation, I don't know what will!
Sara Brown (Category 11, #128): I was surprised that she skipped the LET's Down Under swing. You'd think a top 10 in LET Q-School would get her high enough status to enter the Australia and New Zealand events. In any case, she's going to be trying to figure out how to use her dual membership to her advantage this season. Obviously the goal is to do well enough on each tour to avoid having to return to any Q-School at the end of the season. Can she do it?
Ryann O'Toole (Category 17, #157): Those 7 spots lower on the priority list she is than her UCLA teammate T-Joh is the main reason I'm putting her so much lower on this list. If I could be confident she'd get into more events, I'd give her better odds of replicating her early-season LET success in Australia on the LPGA.
Jennie Lee (Category 11, #126): She's already experienced the Duke curse with a difficult transition from the amateur to the professional ranks, but I think she's going to be a better player in the long run for doing things the hard way. A golf career is a marathon, not a sprint. Or at least it can be, for those good enough to stay in the race. We'll find out in the next 3-to-5 years if she's 1 of them.
Dori Carter (Category 11, #118): She was one of the hottest players on the Futures Tour at the end of 2010, but with all due respect I see her as more of a Jean Reynolds than a Stacy Lewis.
Danah Bordner (Category 11, #101): A few nice finishes at the end of the Futures Tour season (her best in Syracuse, where I must have been her good luck charm or something!) carried over into Q-School success for a player who's taken the scenic route to the LPGA.
Stephanie Sherlock (Category 11, #122): Let's see if LPGA success will be "elementary" for her or whether she'll have more of a Jessica Shepley start to her career on the big tour.
Alison Whitaker (Category 16, #149): If she weren't from Duke, I'd have put her higher in this category. Just kidding. There should be some great UCLA/USC/Duke rivalries among the rookies this year!
Jenny Suh (Category 16, #153): Like Bordner, she rode the wave of some good late-season Futures Tour finishes into a good performance at LPGA Q-School, but like Joh, Whitaker, and Shasta Averyhardt will have to hope enough people higher than her on the priority status list decide not to enter an event that she can avoid Monday qualifying. Her lone Futures Tour win came in Syracuse 2 seasons ago, so I'm rooting for her to beat the odds this year.
Shasta Averyhardt (Category 16, #155): She came out of nowhere in Q-School and only a disastrous final round prevented her from having a lot more playing opportunities this season. It'll be interesting to see what she makes of her opportunities.
On the Bottom Looking Up
Caroline Hedwall (Category 20, #251): She dominated LET Q-School and has already won on the ALPG, so you know she could become a major talent. But we'll be seeing much more of her on the LET as she makes a run for their Solheim Cup team in 2011 than on the LPGA, where she has very little chance of getting into many events. Long-run, I think she'll be 1 of the best in her class on the LPGA. But not this year.
Becky Brewerton: (Category 20, #257): She's been the LET's hard-luck kid when it comes to LPGA Q-School and only a snap decision by LPGA brass allowed her and others into the bottom of Category 20 in this year. Still, as one of the most experienced rookies in the Class of 2011, this 2-time LET winner is certainly poised to make the most of what playing opportunities she gets on the LPGA this season. And her winnings on the European swing count toward the LPGA money list as well as the LET's, so she could do a lot of damage in very few events and improve her status ffor next season very quickly.
Jennifer Johnson: (Category 20, #258): She turned pro in summer of 2010 and rode a T7 in Albany on the Futures Tour into a measure of Q-School success, but expect her to focus her efforts on improving her status for 2012 via a top 5 on the 2011 FT money list.
Jodi Ewart (Category 20, #247): She posted a number of impressive finishes when she joined the Futures Tour last June, but stumbled in the home stretch with 3 straight missed cuts, starting at Syracuse (where I must have been a bad luck charm for her!). I expect her to be in the mix for the top spot on the FT this season.
Jaclyn Sweeney: (Category 20, #260): A runner-up finish at LET Q-School gives her a chance to gain much-needed experience and confidence at the professional level across the pond.
Stephanie Kim (Category 20, #246): A teammate of Natalie Sheary and Cheyenne Woods at Wake Forest, she's beaten them to the LPGA. But did she make the leap to the professional ranks to soon? We'll see how she does on the Futures Tour this season.
Amelia Lewis (Category 20, #249): She finished 19th on the Futures Tour money list in 2010 and 2nd in Syracuse, so let's see how this soon-to-be 20-year-old (her birthday is next Wednesday) fares as an LPGA member on the FT.
Ayaka Kaneko (Category 20, #254): I followed her for awhile during the last round of the Syracuse Futures Tour stop and thought she was too focused on technique to be ready for the big leagues. Whether her Q-School performance proved me right or wrong remains to be seen. She'll be proving herself on the Futures Tour again in 2011.
Sarah Brown (Category 20, #262): I gotta admit that I was turned off by her dad's approach to the wrongful DQ she suffered at the hands of an overzealous and ill-informed rules official on the Futures Tour, but I've gotta hand it to her--she played much better than I expected her to in Q-School, even taking her final-round collapse into account. Let's see if she continues to exceed my expectations on the Futures Tour in 2011.
Harukyo Nomura (Category 20, #253): Let's see how her experience as a top amateur golfer in Japan and in the occasional JLPGA event helps the teenager on the Futures Tour this season--if she does seek membership on the FT, that is (she's not listed there now).
Junko Nakada (Category 20, #259): Let's see if this 20-year-old decides to join the Futures Tour, seeks sponsor exemptions into JLPGA events, or tries the Monday qualifying route on the LPGA.